Four Literacies

Ethics, privacy, copyright, and licenses are all important considerations when it comes to research and scholarship. Some ethical considerations in conducting data collection research include voluntary participation, informed consent, the potential for harm, and communicating the results. The three common conditions outlined by Andrej Zwitter in his 2014 journal “Big Data Ethics” are causality, knowledge, and choice. Causality describes the consideration that a researcher can be held responsible if the ethically relevant result is an outcome of their actions. Knowledge states that a researcher can be held responsible for the result of their actions if they had (or should have had) knowledge of the consequences of their actions. Choice states that a researcher can be blamed for the result if they had the liberty to choose an alternative without risking greater harm to their self. If our research includes secondary data, we have to do our due diligence in researching and considering the methods used by the original researcher(s) in their data collection processes.

Privacy, copyright, and licenses are all legal considerations, as well as ethical ones. Privacy is defined as the control over the extent, timing, and circumstances of sharing oneself (physically, behaviorally, and / or intellectually) with others. Participants’ privacy is protected by various rules and laws, including the HIPAA Privacy Rule, which includes the Authorization for Research. This requires an individual’s signed permission to allow for the disclosure or use of their protected information. Copyright, another legal and ethical consideration, is defined as the exclusive right of the owner of an intellectual property (like a scholarly journal). Licenses are permits that allow for the use of an intellectual property. Some licenses may legally require attribution, which, like a citation, acknowledges the use of another’s data, information, or other work, in a way specifically outlined by the license terms. While licenses do not require further citations of the specific information or data, ethical considerations may lead the licenser to use them anyway.

In a Digital Humanities project we have to consider all four of these literacies just as much as any other form of research. While we may not be conducting the collection of primary data ourselves, we have to consider the ethics of the research methods used by those who did. And in this, the privacy considerations of participants in this research. We also have to consider the privacy of those whose data may be publicly available online, or no longer protected by privacy laws (like those who are deceased), as an ethical consideration. Finally, we have to pay extra mind to copyright and licensing considerations when it comes to using other scholars work, research, data, et cetera.

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